A Personal View of Mark Andrew’s Bridge to a Great City

When I drive over the evocative Hennepin Avenue Bridge, I think of my friend Mark Andrew and the surprising good that government can do.

Mark was on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners when the bridge was built, and he played a big role in choosing its design. At a time when public works mostly looked like Soviet bad dreams, this bridge, opened in 1990, gracefully echoed the original 1855 suspension bridge on the site, the first ever spanning the Father of Waters. Mark showed me that government can do things that are practical, on budget, and add to the richness of life.
HennepinAveBridge
Mark is now running for mayor. I am biased — he’s been a dear friend for decades. And I am not speaking for the rest of the Rowdy Crowd here — just putting in my two cents’ worth.

Mark would be a kickass mayor.

He announced his candidacy Thursday at Washburn High, with school board member Dick Mammen among those standing with him. Andrew, Mammen and I graduated from Washburn in 1968, the most tumultuous year in my lifespan, a year that smashed together revolution, despair, blood politics, the failures and promise of democracy and the ideal of public service. So here are Mammen and Andrew, 45 years later, sleeves rolled up, working to make Minneapolis a better place for everyone to live. I’m proud of my brothers.

Decades ago, they, with others, created the Youth Coordinating Board, which brought together the city, county and school board to deal with kids’ issues. And to give kids a voice in policy-making. Revolutionary idea. This shows Mark knows how to be a catalyst to bring together groups and agencies that don’t normally work together.

In Mark’s professional work lately, he’s been working with sports teams and public agencies to create green facilities and get companies and utilities to sponsor green public works, sharing in the reputational value of being good stewards of land, water and air. Back in his county board days, Mark helped get the Minneapolis Greenway built, the recreational corridor using old below-grade railroad tracks just north of Lake Street. That Greenway has helped spur development and boost property values — a central tenet of Mark’s approach: environmentally sound projects can create jobs, build tax base, and attract residents. Going green is the right thing to do, which Mark has known since being the first president of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group way back in the 1970s, and it’s also good for the city’s economy. Mark also helped bring together a whole bunch of governments to get light rail going in the Twin Cities — which has been a boon to transportation and development in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

More important, the guy’s got a soft heart, boundless (sometimes maniacal) energy, and a million ideas on how to make things better. He knows politics — was state DFL chair — but hasn’t lost his soul to it. He’s still a human being.

When Mammen was running for school board a couple of years ago, he said, “This is our town, boys, it’s in our hands now.” It’s like, when we were kids in South Minneapolis, we were borrowing dad’s car. Now it’s ours, and we have to take care of it. Mammen and Andrew are doing that.

I’d love to see Mark Andrew be mayor. Minneapolis would be better for his caring, his creativity, and his inability to give up.

– Bruce Benidt

(Bridge photo from Wikipedia)

8 Responses

  1. “So here are Mammen and Andrew, 45 years later, sleeves rolled up, working to make Minneapolis a better place for everyone to live. ….
    and Bruce sipping mimosas and watching the sun set?
    ;-)

    Seriously, i appreciate hearing your insights into Mark. I have met him a couple of times (professionally) and he is clearly creative, bright and thoughtful.

    I suppose that this would be the big question I have about Mark (and I’d love your thoughts on this): Legislators have to be masters of many things, they get pulled in many directions, they must multi-task and react constantly. Yet an Executive has to have focus, has to set clear priorities, has to pick and choose between ideas, and deal with those who are disappointed that their idea was sacrificed (because as an Executive, you really can only accomplish a few things). Does Mark have the fortitude/discipline to pick and choose, and to get those disappointed people to focus on the few priorities that he has decided on? Can he say no to people (especially his supporters)? And if he does, can he convince them to support his priorities?

    • PM, what a great question — no surprise. I’d bet Mark did not have that executive ability earlier in his political life. I’d say he has more of it now, having learned, as you say, that you can’t do everything and please everyone. That could be the biggest difference between Andrew at 20 and 40 and Andrew now at 62. (I’d disagree w you some on your point. An executive, like Obama, has to react and legislate and balance competing interests while keeping them engaged.)
      I’ll ask Mark to come in and give
      his answer to your question.

      • Thanks! I’d really appreciate hearing what he has to say in response. And if we can get a dialogue going here, that would be even better!

      • So Bruce, as executive director of the Mark Andrews-aligned SuperPAC, “Freedom and Liberty for Minneapolis”, perhaps you can offer some insight in Mr. Andrews’ attitude toward expanding dipshit gambling gimmicks to pay for mega-projects that build tremendous equity growth for private businesses? Not that I’m blaming him for electronic pulltabs or the state’s grab-your-ankles “approach” to the NFL. But I’m curious.

        Of course ss a loyal Edina-mite the only thing I’m really concerned with is how soon Minneapolis plows its damned streets.

    • What a great series of questions about the Executive function of Mayor and whether I have the chops to navigate that landscape. I enjoy talking about the Mayor’s job description because the job has, in fact, evolved over the years. Yes, it is an Executive job with different characteristics than a Legislators. (Think: Senator Dayton vs.Governor Dayton.) Focus is a key to quality of executive performance. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t do everything. That’s why I’ve tried to customize my priorities in 3 focus areas–kids, economic development and environmental asset building to drive tax base, jobs and quality of life.

      I remember 20 years ago talking to Sharon Sayles Belton about running for Mayor. She was actually interested in running for County Commissioner but I didn’t want to be Mayor back then. Too ceremonial and structured to keep a Mayor weak in a Weak Mayor system. I think I can be a strong Mayor in a Weak Mayor system because I have 3 qualifying attributes: I am laser focused on an ambitious but realistic agenda; I am an expert at reaching across jurisdictional lines to forge partnerships; and I have problem-solving skills to drive innovation in a creatively challenged enterprise.

      I have also learned to say No. This is a hackneyed pronouncement of most politicians, but unevenly practiced. The best executives are the ones who can say No in ways that don’t deflate the ambition to try again.

      I’m trying again, too. After being out of office 14 years. It seems like a stretch to just jump back on the bike and pedal, but it is true: we don’t forget how to do it.

      The modern Mayor is a corporate executive, balancing the needs of the community and its “customers”, against the constraints of the internal organization–budgeting, staffing, efficiency. But managing the City with just cybernetic efficiency, the Mayor would be a paper success and a soulless enterprise.

      A true City leader has to be a community convener, uniter, creative savant, bridge builder and executer; one who will transcend its spreadsheet successes and help our citizens look at the City as a clean, creative, safe and happy place they are proud to call home.

      • That all sounds good and reasonable. And I appreciate your taking the time to answer here.

        One of the things that i am concerned about is that many people seem to think that government can be run like a business. Personally, i am rather skeptical–but you are someone who has experience in both areas. If you were elected mayor, what kinds of business oriented ideas or practices would you attempt to utilize as mayor?

  2. Bring back Sayles-Belton. She was perfect for Minneapolis.

    P.S. I live in the burbs and am quite pleased to distance myself from Minneapolis politics AS LONG AS they don’t require state subsidies for absurdities like LGA or municipal pensions.

  3. Mark,
    It is exciting to see you back in the fray. It takes energy and confidence and courage – as you know. I would love to learn more about your thinking on poverty issues – joblessness, violence, diminished public safety, poor housing in parts of the Northside and other pockets in the City, but esp. the Northside, which can seem intractable at time. No single public servant and no sisngle program can heal this wound, but your thinking is important. Thanks.
    Mary Small, NE Minneapolis
    (we did some work together when you were on the county board aand I was the City’s communications director, 1998-2002)
    ps: Bruce, I have always been a fan. Glad to find you here.

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